By Brian Hitsky
Stan Young, who has been living the good life in Cuenca for the past four years, belies his age. He’s 85 and demonstrates an exuberance and passion in pursuit of interests that would make younger individuals bend at the knees.
In constant motion and with a zest for life, Young is fascinated with exploring other people’s culture and uniqueness, nature’s hidden treasurers, travel’s wonderous adventures and a deep musical appreciation. He has been to many countries and has invited strangers from all over the world into his home. Many later become friends.
Stan lives a full life and it’s inspired by his varied interests — bird watching, hiking, hosting couch surfers and the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra. He enjoys other things, too, but those are the main catalysts.
“If I don’t wake up tomorrow, I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said. “Cuenca is the capstone.”
His wonderful life has taken him throughout the United States, where he worked for Proctor & Gamble as a credit manager, and later at Standard Fruit Co., which imported bananas from Ecuador, as a transportation manager. He has also owned an assisted living facility in Tucson, Arizona for 30 years.
The white-haired, strapping 6-foot Young served his country as a naval aviator for six years and also completed eight more years in the reserves. “I loved flying on carriers. I couldn’t wait for the next hop,” he recalled. “I was fortunate enough to miss the conflicts we had. I was too young for Korea and too old for Vietnam.”
While in New Orleans, walking with his son on the bayou, Young had an epiphany. He spotted a bird. “I saw this pretty little bird walking around. It was fascinating. I wondered about it. I hadn’t paid any attention to birds before. I bought a birding book and was hooked.”
The creature that so influenced Young was a Sora, a small water bird, which breeds in marshes. That discovery led to a lifetime of adventure and travel. “Now I’ve seen more than 2,500 birds,” Young boasts. He knows this because he keeps a detailed list on a computer program that tracks his findings.
He’s been on seven major birding excursions, including one to Ecuador in 2002 when he first fell in love with the country. He goes with a friend who has an expensive camera. After each day’s journey, they fastidiously look over the photos and meticulously log each new bird spotting.
“Birds are so diverse. I’ve discovered over time that they gave me an excuse to go to other countries and see different cultures,” Stan said. “I’m appreciating a variety of birds of the world, appreciating nature and appreciating the lives of people of the world.” His travels have taken him to 43 countries including Peru, Thailand, Argentina, Australia, Borneo, Canada and Mexico.
One regret is that Young did not have an interest in birds when he was flying in the navy. “I wish I had known about birds then,” he said. “There are ocean birds that never see land. I have never seen an albatross.”
Stan’s fondness for birding, especially in Ecuadorian regions like Mindo and the Amazon, made Ecuador the place where he wanted to be based. He just didn’t know where.
On a visit to Cuenca, he stopped for lunch and met a North American expat. They began talking about music and the expat told Young about the Cuenca Symphony. When Young learned that the symphony was free and that it played almost every week, he made his mind up immediately.
“I had been a season ticket holder with the Tucson Symphony,” he said. “I paid about $400 for tickets to four performances. When I heard that the Cuenca Symphony was free, that was the deciding factor to live here.”
Young has an admiration for how difficult it is for symphony performers. “They practice all week for one complex performance and then start all over again the next week,” he said. “It’s marvelous and it’s free.”
His birding ventures led him to Cajas National Park, where he began taking hiking seriously.
“One thing led to another,” he said. “I moved to Ecuador because of birds and the symphony. I began hiking because of birds.”
However, birds and hiking don’t mix, said Young. “For birding you have to stop still and be very quiet. There’s no talking. You either look for birds in the trees or they come to you,” he described.
Seven months after securing his cedula, he started trekking through the numerous Cajas trails. Through word of mouth, people learned that Stan regularly hiked, and began to tag along.
“It ballooned,” he said. “I was going two to three times per week and taking people.”
Stan’s hiking regularity got the notice of the park rangers. They thought he was an unlicensed guide. Although he never charged anyone, Stan was prevented one day from entering the gate. It took a while to straighten everything out, and it wasn’t until he spoke with the rangers’ manager that he was allowed back in.
Young has his favorite hikes, he knows about 11 hiking trails, and takes a morning bus from Terminal Terrestre to the main Cajas entrance. He usually stops for lunch and returns by bus about 3 pm.
Stan’s other fascination is with couch surfing. While traveling with his son and daughter-in-law in 2016, and staying in various hostels and hotels, he met a couple who were volunteering at a hostel. They said that they would be in Cuenca in the next couple of weeks, so Young invited them to look him up. They did, and introduced Young to couch surfing, which is similar to Airbnb, except couch surfing is free.
The couple helped Young set up his couch surfing web site, gave him a great reference and left. Thus, began a stream of people from different countries paying him a visit. In December he logged his 100th guest from 40 countries that have stayed in his three-bedroom home.
“There’s safety built into the site and I’ve never had a problem,” Young said. “I’ve got my profile and they’ve got their profiles with references. If there’s mutual interest we e-mail back and forth. They don’t know where I live until I let them know.”
Young’s keen interest in people makes him a perfect host. He prefers his guests to stay more than one day so he can get to know them. “These are usually highly-educated people with college degrees,” he said. “They pitch in with the cleaning and cooking. I can go just about anywhere in the world and stay with one of my guests.”
He takes delight in these relationships and proudly wears numerous bracelets that were given to him as gifts from his visitors. “I never take them off,” he said.
With decades of insight, Young has definite thoughts about people. “I’ve found that we all have the same desires and interests and there shouldn’t be any borders. People are all the same. We all want to live our lives in peace and harmony and not hate each other.”
It’s a philosophy that can be adopted no matter what generation you are.